Sacha Kljestan was stuck on the outside of the US national team bubble for more than two years, despite performing well at club level both at home and abroad during that time.
So coming off the bench to make his triumphant return with a goal and two assists in a World Cup qualifying destruction of St. Vincent & the Grenadines represents sweet vindication and a point proved, right?
The Kljestan of years past might have felt that way, but not the new Sacha.
Friday's supersub appearance prompted quiet satisfaction, but also introspection and serenity for a man who's savoring every moment of his new life at international level.
“I'm happy with the way the game went. Coming in off the bench, all you hope for is to make an impact on the game and I think I was able to do that,” Kljestan told MLSsoccer.com by phone from Kingstown, St. Vincent. “It was almost like my re-debut with the national team.
“I've been thinking about this during the week: that I almost had my first national-team career, and then I had a break for two and a half years, I got to reflect on a lot of things and look back, and now I'm more motivated and more driven and more determined. So it's almost like a new chance for me, and I think I did pretty well.”
But Kljestan and his fellow substitute Christian Pulisic hounded the overmatched Vincentians relentlessly, picking apart a tired defense in tropical heat to pad the final scoreline and make their case for bigger roles when the US host Trinidad & Tobago in Jacksonville, Florida on Tuesday.
“You look at the game, and you see that we win 6-0. But these games are never easy,” said Kljestan, alluding to his previous US experiences with Caribbean qualifying adventures.
“Getting to the game isn't easy, it's 45 minutes on some winding roads, then you play on a cricket field where the middle of the field is very hard, very bouncy. Then it's hot, it's humid, it's pretty windy because it's right next to the ocean. And you're playing against a team that has nothing to lose, they just want to prove to themselves that they can beat the big Americans … but I think we stepped on the field with a professional attitude and a good mentality, and got the job done. And we'll be excited to get back to the States and get a qualifier at home.”
The New York Red Bulls playmaker was quick to point out that St. Vincent were “not a really, really strong opponent,” and maintained a serene approach when asked if he'd earned a start vs. T&T.
“I'm not sure. Whether I am or I'm not, my attitude doesn't change. My mentality will stay the same,” he said. “Whatever Jurgen decides, the team's going to be all-in. I think the team's got a great spirit to them and I'll be ready, be prepared to help the team any way I can.”